On May 9, the governor of Georgia signed SB 164 into law, making several important amendments to the state's HIV criminal laws that significantly increase a prosecutor's burden of proof. Advocates living with HIV in Georgia along with CHLP partner organizations, Georgia HIV Justice Coalition and Georgia Equality, have been working on changing the law for several years, building on the work first launched by the original coalition of PLHIV, advocates and health care providers that included Dr. Wendy Armstrong of Emory University and Steve Scarborough, an Atlanta-based criminal defense attorney.
The law eliminated certain HIV-specific provisions of the criminal code and amended others. Under the revised law, PLHIV who fail to disclose their status, intentionally seek to transmit HIV, and then engage in sexual behavior that poses a significant risk of transmission are subject to felony prosecution regardless of whether HIV transmission is alleged. The law remains HIV-specific, singling out PLHIV for uniquely negative treatment in a way that other serious and incurable diseases are not. Felony-level punishments are retained, but a person convicted now faces up to 5 years rather than 10 years in prison.
The bill doesn't foreclose continued use of Georgia's felony assault law, which has been used against people living with HIV in the past. As our partners in Georgia acknowledge, there is still work to be done. Once the law goes into effect on July 1, monitoring how the new law is implemented and documenting who remains at risk will be an important part of that work.